Friday, December 31, 2010

2010: Year in Review

As 2010 began, I knew it would be a huge year for us.  How huge, I had no idea.  I didn't have a strong feeling that things would be good or bad, just big.

I could never have imagined how big.

This year we:

-celebrated Grandma Great's 90th birthday
-had a party for Seth's 30th birthday
-endured months of grueling and unsuccessful fertility treatments
-became pregnant naturally after stopping treatment
-began a high school girls' ministry
-found out that our baby is a little girl
-hoped beyond hope that this would be the year for our SF Giants only to watch it actually happen
-celebrated Seth's award for being Employee of the Year
-welcomed new members to our extended family and reconnected with many who we lost touch with
-and welcomed many new additions courtesy of our dear friends (baby Evan, baby Emery, baby Ezekiel, and many others).
-Oh, and I turned 29.

Now, with all that said, we are eagerly looking forward to 2011.

I will be turning 30 and will be having my first child.  Those are huge in themselves, and I'm excited.

May the Lord be glorified in all things.  I pray blessings upon all of you!

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.(Romans 5:8)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Giving Homemade

This year, I am doing my best to give homemade gifts.  I think we can all agree that today's economy either encourages you to splurge and build up debt or reign things in.  Well, I definitely don't want to go in debt to give materialistic gifts.

Instead, I am trying to craft usable gifts, edible treats, and simple blessings.

I got the inspiration from a card received by a friend, flipping through some home magazines and surfing crafty websites.  I'm not including photos of the finished products because I don't know if the recipients will read this and I don't want to ruin the surprise.

I have always been taught that gifts that are personally made and are given with love are the most meaningful gifts.  It's such a blessing to receive something homemade.  Maybe I'm more sentimental because I'm now in my sixth month of pregnancy, but we have recently been digging out homemade gifts received from our grandmothers in our childhood to share with our baby.  We both have crocheted blankets from our grandmothers and I also have many homemade things from my mom.

Speaking of my mom, she is the most crafty and gifted creative person I know.  She can draw, paint, sew, make patterns, come up with a million projects using staples found in every home, and just plain make anything fun and/or tasty.  She wasn't scared to get messy doing projects with glue, paper, scissors, and dry beans or pasta.  We did finger-painting, papier mache, gardening, crocheting, sewing, cross-stitch, looming, baking, decorating, and the list goes on and on. She's the one who really taught me that making a gift can be so much more meaningful than buying the same thing.

So, we'll see.  I know a lot of love has gone in to these assembled gifts and I hope they're received as blessings.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Committed to Sing Off

I am now a huge fan of NBC's show "Sing Off."  Apparently, I missed the entire first season and I saw a cool ad for season two.  Knowing I would forget about it by the time it rolled around, I scheduled it to record on our DVR.

Boy am I glad I did!

I have always been a fan of a cappella music--just pure voices singing in harmony.  I think anyone who's ever been in a choir of some sort must love this music because you recognize how difficult it is to get it just right and also how marvelous it is when you do.

This show is far better than any American Idol show.  Here, the troupes sing completely free of background music--although you may not realize it.  They have to vocally reproduce any instrumentation that is normally in modern music.  Think drums, bass lines, winds--all being produced by voice instead of instruments.

Now, at first, it was just a fun show.  By the end I was COMMITTED.  Here's why:

I find that most of today's popular music (and musicians for that matter) focus on hypersexualization.  Songs abound dealing with illicit relationships, polygamy, hedonism, etc.  It's blase to focus on music with pure topics or to focus on music that praises our Lord--even if musically (arrangement, content, actual musical ability) are far superior.

On the Sing Off, out of the ten initial groups, you had two groups on opposite ends of the spectrum:  Pitch Slapped (a coed group from The Berklee School of Music) and Committed (an all male group who started singing worship and praise at church).

Pitch Slapped introduced themselves to America with an oversexualized choreographed performance of "Good Girls Go Bad."  Just the type of plastified and "do whatever you want" type of junk that is so prevalent nowadays.  These kids looked like a bunch of entitled young adults who party and believe they're superior to everyone else.  Their background story was filled with self-aggrandizement.  Talk about pride going before the fall!  They ended up being the first group eliminated by the judges--hallelujah!

Now, Committed was the last group to perform.  Based on the opening number, I wasn't sure what to expect from them.  I LOVED their background story.  They started in high school and sang at church and currently travel to perform praise and worship music for area congregations to bring glory to God.  The most remarkable thing: their genuine humility and modesty.  This group of six men dressed in black slacks, white dress shirts, ties, and red zip sweaters looked like they were poised to be anything but what the audience wanted.  I so desperately wanted to see them advance, if nothing else simply for their message of Christ to be shared week after week.  They wholly admitted that singing Top 40 was new for them and it was going to be an adjustment.

They began their number.  They sang Maroon 5's "This Love," and at first I couldn't even recognize the song.  My heart sank--but only for a split second.  All of a sudden they burst in to form.  They took the song, made it their own, and as I listened I heard the lyrics in a whole new light.  They made it sound like they were singing about being tempted.  See for yourself here.  Wow!  In no time, the crowd was up on their feet, swaying with the rhythm, and clapping along.  The place erupted when they finished--even other teams leapt to their feet to applaud them.  How did they respond?  Pointing heavenward.  Now THAT'S what music sounds like when the singers are filled with the Holy Spirit!  I kid you not--if they had an album out right now I would be first in line to buy it.  The judges were blown away.  I think everyone was.  I literally replayed their performance because it was THAT GOOD.

So, to close, I encourage you to watch the Sing Off.  More than that, pray that God would continue to bless these young men in Committed, that they would stick with Him, share His love, use the gifts He's given them, and shine for His glory.  I pray these young men will win and will have greater opportunities to spread the gospel and not be pressured by society to change or steer clear of faith-based music.  Dove music and Christian labels--be in touch with this group and sign them immediately!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

My Giant (s) Life So Far

I'm dedicating this blog post to my wife, who I love more than anything except God.  She has loved me more than any other person and has supported me and continued to be married to me despite my horrible sports affliction.  I originally was embarrassed after writing all of this, but my wife encouraged me to post it, so here you go..........

My love of baseball started as a small boy living in rural Northern California.  I remember my dad taking our family to Candlestick Park in San Francisco in the mid to late 80's.  I can't recall exactly the first game I went to, but I remember walking through that tunnel and seeing the green grass of what seemed like the most beautiful baseball diamond in the world.  Seeing the bright white home jerseys, the orange seats, smelling the hot dogs and hearing the crack of the bat from the players taking batting practice started a love affair with the game.  If you know anything about Candlestick Park, it was one of the ugliest, coldest, lousiest ballparks in all of baseball.  To me it was my Wrigley Field, Fenway Park, or Dodger Stadium.  To me is was glorious.  I used to beg my parents to take me to games, and fortunately I was able to go many.  Most of the one's I didn't go to I listened to on the radio.  I always had the radio tuned to KNBR 680, the flagship radio station of the Giants.  I would listen to the entire game in the back yard while mimicking each play described on the radio. I still remember pretending to be Will Clark, Chili Davis, Robbie Thompson, and Matt Williams.  I would throw pop-ups to myself and pretend to rob home runs from going over the fence, which led to many scraped up wrists from our wooden fence.  As much joy as I received from attending games and listening to them on the radio, the Giants always found a way to break my heart.  The first heartache I can remember was when they made the playoffs in 1987 and lost to the Cardinals in the NLCS.  They followed that up by making it to the World Series in 1989 only to get swept by their crosstown rival Oakland A's.  I still remember laying on the floor in our family room preparing to watch game 3 when the ground started to shake.  I  had never experienced an earthquake before, and at age 9 it freaked me out!!!  One moment the announcers were talking and the next--the live feed goes black and the ground is shaking like crazy!!  In 1993 the Giants won 103 games in one of the greatest seasons I can ever remember.  It was Barry Bonds' first year as a Giant (pre-steriods) and he didn't disappoint.  He won the MVP that year.  The Giants had two 20 game winners in Bill Swift and John Burkett, but they still managed to miss the playoffs by one lousy game!!!  The Braves made a trade for Fred McGriff at the trade deadline and squeaked past the Giants to take the division.  Oh yeah....and the lousy, no good, rotten, Dodgers beat the Giants on the last game of the season to knock them out.  This only furthered my profound dislike for the Dodgers and everything blue, which hasn't really changed to this day.  It would be 4 years until the Giants would make the playoffs again.  In 1997 the were surprising division winners, only to lose to the Wild Card Florida Marlins in the first round.  In 1998 they lost on the final game of the season to the Colorado Rockies on a Neifi Perez home run.  This forced a one game playoff with the Cubs, which, of course, they lost at Wrigley field.  In 2000, they moved out of their dump of a ballpark and into the finest in all of the major leagues, Pacific Bell Park.  They made the playoffs and faced off against the New York Mets.........and lost again!!!!!  In 2002 they finally made it back to the World Series.  They faced off against the Angels.  They looked poised to win their first Championship since moving to San Francisco--only 5 outs away in game six-- when the roof caved in and they choked it away, losing game 6 and 7.  Fortunately for me, I was in the middle of my senior year at college, working full-time and going to school full-time and was unable to get fully engrossed into the games.  While I still followed the action closely, I tried to deny that it ever happened, and that they ever lost.  I ignored all internet reports, newspaper articles, and sports TV and radio for months afterwards.  That tended to be how I dealt with the heartache as an adult.  However, I freely admit as a child I cried many a tear over my beloved Giants and their misfortunes.  My mom would say, "It's only a game, don't get so emotionally involved"  As much as I tried, I just couldn't though.  The Giants and the game of baseball had stirred up something inside of me that I could never quite explain, and still can't. These are a few quotes that I think explain it best. In the movie Field of Dreams, James Earl Jones' character Terence Mann, describes baseball this way........ 

"The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It's been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good, and that could be again."  -James Earl Jones, Field of Dreams-

"Every day is a new opportunity. You can build on yesterday's success or put its failures behind and start over again. That's the way life is, with a new game every day, and that's the way baseball is." -Bob Feller, Indians Hall of Fame Pitcher-


One of my favorite players growing up was Barry Bonds.  When the Giants first signed him I was 13 years old, and Barry still had a normal sized head and body for that matter.  In 1993 he won the MVP with the Giants.  In 1996 he became the second player to hit 40 home runs and steal 40 bases in one season.  In 1998 he watched a juiced Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa capture the hearts of America in a home run derby that lasted all season.  Bonds broke the single season home run record and nobody cared.  He broke the all time home run record and nobody cared.  He couldn't find a team to play for, and nobody cared.  I admit, I loved Barry Bonds the player.  I never admired Bonds the person, but I did marvel at what he could do on the field.  Practically every time he swung the bat, the ball was hit like a laser beam somewhere.  While it came to light he used steroids, it also came to light that many of the pitchers he faced used as well.  Players from all teams were exposed as to having used steroids.  I understand because of Barry's rude behavior towards teammates and reporters, and his eventual breaking of one of sports most hallowed records made him out to be one of the most despised figures in sports history.  But I think it is important to point out that he was one of hundreds of players who used performance enhancing drugs during the late 1990's and 2000's.  Sure he hit home runs while on the juice, but how many pitchers were on the juice who pitched to him?  Two for sure were Eric Gagne of the Dodgers and Roger Clemens of the Yankees/Astros.  But how many others who weren't caught do we not know about?  I think a lot of people tend to forget this.....
My expectations for the Giants 2010 season came like most every other season.  Hopefully we can finish above the Dodgers and maybe just maybe we can squeak into the playoffs.  I knew we had great pitching, but our hitting was one of the worst in baseball.  We had a two time Cy-Young champ in Lincecum, but the rest of the team was adequate, at best.  The season pretty much went to form until a young 23 year old lad named Buster was brought up to the team.  From that point forward, I think all Giants fans got a boost.  Young Buster Posey legitimized the Giants offense and they quickly threatened to take the division lead.  It looked like they would before the last day of the season, but this team wasn't tagged with the catch phrase "Giants baseball, Torture!" for nothing.  They made me agonizingly wait until the last day to clinch the division.  I honestly was so thrilled that they won the division, I didn't care less what they did in the playoffs.  I thought they had a shot to beat the Braves, but would get stomped by the powerful Phillies in the NLCS if they made it that far.  My wife and I were lucky enough to go to game one of the playoffs in San Francisco against Atlanta and see one, if not the best, amazing baseball game I've ever seen in person.  Tim Lincecum pitched a 14 strikeout shutout and At&T Park was rocking.  Still, although I was happy, I felt the World Series was a pipe dream.  They went on to play the Phillies and to my shock they beat Roy Halladay in game one of the NLCS.  The same Roy Halladay who threw a no hitter in his first start in the playoffs.  And Cody Ross hit two home runs!  A player they picked up on a waiver claim in September!  I tried not to let my mind wander to thoughts of, "Could this be the year, is this actually happening?"  One crazy thing happened after another and before you knew it they had knocked off arguably the best team in all of baseball and made it to the World Series!!!  I couldn't believe it then and still can't believe it now.  I couldn't believe it so much that I was too nervous to watch the games and recorded them all to watch them later so I would know the outcome.  Go ahead call me a wimp, but this poor guy's heart couldn't take it.  To me is was torture!  I don't think it was until they beat Cliff Lee in game one of the World Series when I finally let myself believe that it was going to happen.  The Giants were a juggernaut that just couldn't be stopped.  They didn't have the high priced players and never were the favorite against any team they played in the playoffs, but they had heart and were a true team.  When Nelson Cruz swung through the final pitch from Brian Wilson, I fell to my knees and wept like a little boy.  No joke, and no I'm not ashamed.  Something that I wanted so bad and that felt so far from reach had finally happened.  It will be season I will never forget, and one that I will cherish the rest of my life.  One of my first calls after the Giants won was to my dad.  With tears still in my eyes, I said, "Dad, they did it, I can't believe it, but they did it!"  I think both my dad and I were both transported back 25 or so years ago to when he brought me to my first game.  A moment shared by a father and son that will never be forgotten.  A few days later my wife and I traveled up to San Francisco for the parade.  Close to a million people partying in the streets of San Francisco.  What a year, and one that can never be topped.  I know that next year will be a tough one, because there really is no where to go but down, but the view from the top looks good right now, and I will enjoy it while it lasts!!!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Best Chicken Salad Sandwich--EVER!

Seth thinks I'm bonkers over how much I love this sandwich.  Regardless, if you've ever seen the show "The Best Thing I Ever Ate" on the Food Network, this would be my nomination for the sandwich category.

This is the Chicken Salad Sandwich from Olde Tyme Pastries in Turlock, CA.

Even though their sister company in Modesto (Village Baking Company) makes the same sandwich, it tastes better from Olde Tyme Pastries.  Believe me, I know.

So what makes this sandwich so special?

Let's begin with the bread.  You get your choice of fresh baked bread, but my preference is Dutch Crunch.  Not many bakeries carry this fine bread, but they should!  For a foodie, you will appreciate that it has both a moist and soft inner crumb, but it also has a light crunch on the exterior.  Originally, it was made in the Netherlands and was called Tiger Bread because of the pattern of the crumb top (I didn't know that before--just looked it up).  I used to eat this bread all the time at my uncle's deli in Redwood City (Otto's Deli) where my affinity for it was well established.  Trust me--it's wonderful!

Next, the chicken salad.  This chicken is not dredged in mayo, but is not lacking either.  I'm not a huge fan of mayo, so that says a lot!  It has a perfect blend of salt, pepper, and pimentos.  Plus, the chicken is shredded so finely that it's only a few steps up from paste.  So the texture is smooth and free of any fat or gristle.  I've had chicken salad that's been cubed, cut in strips, and shredded, but each one always has chunks of fat or pieces of chewy, gristly cartilage left in there that justs turns me off.  This one?  Never.

The sandwich comes topped with fresh slices of tomato, leaves of romaine lettuce with the ribs removed, sprouts (I didn't get them this time), and more mayo if you request (I don't).  They keep it simple, which is perfect.

The sandwich always comes with a fresh dill pickle spear and usually one fresh baked cookie of the day.  Since it's around the holidays, I was given not one, but two mini cupcakes: one white cake with vanilla frosting and sprinkles and one chocolate cake with chocolate frosting and sprinkles.

Their lunch menu is only served Monday through Friday from 11am to 3pm.  I started getting this sandwich about ten years ago while I was going to college just down the road.  It's been my favorite since day one.  Sadly, it had been a couple years since I had this sandwich because when we visited family in the area, we usually got in town just after 3pm on a Friday and left in the early morning on Mondays.  So, whenever I get a chance I make PLANS to get this sandwich.  This time, Seth and I had lunch there on the Friday after Thanksgiving and then I bought one to go and ate it later for dinner.

Absolute bliss.

So, if you're ever in the Turlock area during Olde Tyme Pastries' lunch hours, I highly encourage you to get this sandwich.  It doesn't hurt that the same lady who's made my sandwiches all these years is still there serving up greatness with a smile.  It's guaranteed delish!

Oh, and ANY baked good at either Olde Tyme Pastries or Village Baking Company is a sure winner.  Some of our favorites are chocolate covered cookie dough, chocolate mice, snickerdoodle cookies, raspberry pockets, chocolate napoleons, and apple nests (ask for it warmed with butter on top--yumm).  No matter what you get, you won't be disappointed.